Books and Publishing in Kashmir – Treasure House for Book Lovers
Against all odds of declining reading habits and onslaught of armed insurgency, Jay Kay Books has published over 300 titles in English, apart from reprinting many 18th century books related to Kashmir.
By Mushtaqul Haq Sikander
Srinagar: One of the oldest publication House of the state of Jammu & Kashmir, Jay Kay Books is burning bright, and undeterred by the declining reading habits. I was very glad to meet the Managing Director, Quality Control and Packing, Mr. Sheikh Bashir Ahmad who briefed me about their publication firm and business that he inherited from his great grandfather. His great grandfather Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar established a publishing house whose sales outlet and office was located at the Chattabal area of Srinagar before 1856. Those days, Chattabal was a vibrant trade centre where numerous traders, foreigners, students and scholars of different fields used to visit. The bookshop became a hub for all such book lovers, who would not only purchase, but could lend and sell books too. In this manner, a number of rare manuscripts were acquired by Sheikh Abdul Ghaffar from people of different lands. These manuscripts and books were in various languages particularly Urdu, Persian and Arabic. In those days, he published Awrad e Fathiyya of Sayyid Ali Hamdani and Awrad e Qadiriyya of Shaikh Syed Abdul Qadir Jeelani from Lahore as there was no industry of book publishing available in Kashmir. So, it was certainly a revolutionary effort and a watershed in the publishing history of J&K State as these books are still in demand among the Muslims of the state.
From him, the mantle of publishing industry was taken over by his son, Sheikh Ghulam Muhammad, who shifted from Chattabal first to Maharajgunj and then to the historic Maisuma, near Lal Chowk, that is the heart of Srinagar. Sheikh Ghulam Muhammad took the publishing in the J&K state to new heights by establishing a new firm naming it as, Haji Sheikh Ghulam Muhammad and Sons Tajraan e Kutub. Under the name of this firm, many debut and amateur authors, poets and writers made their entry into the world of letters. The number of works published by them includes Rahman Rahi’s first book, Nawruz e Subh, Hamidi Kashmiri’s Wadi Key Phool, Kuldeep Raina’s Sang Dil Baap, Ghulam Nabi Khayal’s translation of Rubbayat e Umar Khayyam, Jaganath Azad’s Iqbal Key Aakhri Dou Saal, Dr Shakeel ul Rahman’s Urdu Lisaniyaat, Peerzada Sahibzada Mahmood Ahmad’s Jammu Kashmir Ki Mukhtasar Tarikh, Ali Mohammad Lone’s Aes Tey Chey Insan. First the firm used to publish books in Persian and Urdu and subsequently English books began to be published by them too.
Sheikh Ghulam Muhammad also made efforts to establish and organize the Kashmir Book Sellers and Publishers Association of which he remained the chairperson till his death in year 1993. The firm not only published books, but distributed and sold other published books too particularly those of other countries that included Iran and Pakistan.
The onslaught of mass armed insurgency had its impact on this firm too, when the whole office along with the bookshop located in the four storied house at Maisuma, Budshah Chowk was reduced to ashes during the week long curfew on 2 April, 1993. It was a huge shock as all the books were destroyed, but the firm did make a comeback with a new name Jay Kay Books that now till date has published more than three hundred titles in English. They have a separate Urdu publication house with the name Kitab Mahal Publishers. More than hundred titles have been published in Urdu.
When I browse through their catalogue, I can find scores of books published in the field of Kashmir History, Politics, Literature, Islam, Sufism, Sociology, Economy, Anthropology, Travel and Ancient History. Some of the primary research material and books have been published by the Jay Kay Books. The books related to the 18-19th century of Kashmir that are out of print have also been reprinted by them. The number of titles is growing and new authors and writers are approaching them with their manuscripts and their editorial team scrutinizes every manuscript for its academic excellence and writing quality. It is really heartening to witness an indigenous publishing house giving voice to the native writers to reach out to the world.
Despite the fact that most of the titles published by Jay Kay Books relate to Kashmir, but they certainly are exploring new fields and publishing titles related to world and contemporary South Asian history and politics too. Further, Sheikh Waseem (Production Manager) informs me that they are going to publish fiction too shortly.
On enquiring about the hefty price of their published books, Waseem says that if they lower the price further then they have to compromise on the quality of the books, and they certainly are not ready for it. He further states that they offer more than 30 percent discount to students on their titles, so price is not a matter, but certainly the declining reading habit is.
The wide range of titles published by them makes it indispensable for any student or serious researcher working on J&K state to miss their titles. The further good news is that Waseem made me explore a wide range of old manuscripts that they are going to publish in various phases. It would really be a great service to the inhabitants of the state, and reinforcing a tradition that passed over to them through lineal heritage.
When questioned about the e-book concept, Waseem replied if need arose, they can opt for that too. They have an online presence and most of the out of station orders are booked through their website. So if there are any authors, writers and thinkers who have a manuscript ready for publication, the buck stops at Jay Kay Books!
(The writer can be reached at [email protected])